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Paltry War Contracts in North Dakota During World War II


In the difficult days of World War II, North Dakotans generally responded with patriotic fervor to help win the war. According to an editorial in the Bismarck Tribune, published on this date in 1946, the people of North Dakota, per capita, had led the nation in purchasing war bonds.

The same article also alluded to the other side of the coin – that North Dakota ranked dead last in federal war contracts, stating: “we had no war production plants in the ordinary sense of the term.” A paltry total of 9.6 million dollars in defense contracts came to the state in the war years – out of a national total of 225 billion dollars, a percentage of just .0004 of the contract-dollars.

It was not for lack of trying. Early in 1942, a “war project group,” consisting of 200 businessmen, building contractors, labor leaders, city leaders and county officials urged Governor John Moses to appoint an effective five-person committee to travel to Washington, D.C., to negotiate federal contracts. The activists wanted Moses to get at least one large defense contract and as many “smaller . . . contracts” as possible.

It did not work out really well. The North Dakota contracts were largely for agricultural production. Grafton got funds to make dehydrated potatoes, while Hillsboro, Grand Forks, and Fargo got contracts for dried eggs or dried milk.

The N.D. War Production Board’s district manager, P.W. Fawcett, arranged contracts to make clay pigeons for target practice; and to make mattresses, fur caps, wooden “practice bombs” and “ammunition boxes.” Minot got money for the “chemical breakdown of lignite coal.” And the most important small contracts went to machinists in Fargo, Valley City and Lidgerwood, for machine-tooling. The biggest splash, however, came when Swimaster Corporation of Grand Forks landed a one-million-dollar contract for life-saving vests.

It was not difficult to understand why North Dakota was “at the tail end” of defense spending. In the 1930s and early 1940s, Senator Gerald P. Nye had been a nemesis to Franklin Roosevelt, constantly assailing FDR’s foreign policies. Roosevelt was not going to allow Nye’s state to benefit greatly from war spending. The lack of big contracts, opined the Bismarck Tribune, stemmed directly from the qualities of the state’s delegation in Washington, D.C.; so that North Dakota gave the most for war-bonds but got the least in war-contracts.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “We Lead The Nation,” Bismarck Tribune, March 19, 1946, p. 6.

“At The Tail End,” Bismarck Tribune, May 23, 1942, p. 4.

“Most and Least,” Bismarck Tribune, August 12, 1942, p. 4.

“Grand Forks Firm Gets $1,000,000 War Contract,” Bismarck Tribune, November 19, 1942, p. 3.

“$3,500,000 in War Contracts Secured by WPB for State,” Bismarck Tribune, January 4, 1943, p. 2.

“Where War Contracts Go,” Bismarck Tribune, April 25, 1942, p. 4.

“N.D. War Contracts Total $8,149,000,” Bismarck Tribune, January 27, 1945, p. 2.

“N.D. War Contracts Total $2,196,717; Minot Has $27,300,” Minot Daily News, September 3, 1942, p. 1.

“Lend Lease Plan is Assailed By Nye; He Calls it ‘Brazen,’” New York Times, January 20, 1941, p. 6.

“Nye Charges Leaders ‘Cheat’ Americans,” New York Times, August 14, 1941, p. 9.

D. Jerome Tweton, “The Home Front, 1941-1945: A Special Report,” North Dakota Studies, online,,
accessed on December 23, 2013.